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Reality Check: Cisco Now May Be Dirt Cheap Vs. Peers

Jon C. Ogg

Cisco Systems, Inc. (CSCO) took a beating this last week. It was a bad enough drop that it made our own worst major blowups of the week feature on Saturday. In no way can investors expect that Cisco stock will suddenly bounce back to where it was immediately, and we would not at all be shocked if its problems persist and if shares even drift lower in the coming days and weeks. But the reality is that Cisco's huge drop may have just made it very cheap against peers even though it did warn of a rough 2014.

24/7 Wall St. wanted to stack Cisco up against peers such as Alcatel-Lucent, S.A. (ALU) and Juniper Networks, Inc. (JNPR). We also wanted to see what the analyst community is saying now that the dust is settling. Cisco trades at under 11-times forward earnings and 2.5-times expected sales now. With cash still growing, it now has close to $48 billion in cash that can be used for share buybacks, dividends, and acquisitions.

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Cisco's new dividend yield is 3.2% now that shares are down around $21.50. Cisco's consensus price target is listed as $23.91 by Thomson Reuters, and it was closer to $26.50 before earnings. This new lower target price still implies upside of 11% plus that dividend.

Here are the key analyst changes which were made in the two days after its earnings miss and warning.

  • Goldman Sachs maintained an official Buy rating but removed Cisco from the firm’s prized Conviction Buy List; its price target was lowered to $25 from $30 based on earnings and guidance valuations.
  • Wedbush downgraded Cisco to Neutral from Outperform, lowering the price target to $23 from $26.
  • Oppenheimer said “No Pain, No Gain” and maintaining an Outperform rating, but cut the target down from $27.00 to $25.00.
  • Credit Suisse maintained its Underperform rating, lowered earnings and sales estimates, and cut the target price to $20 from $21.
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch maintained its Buy rating, with lowered expectations ahead, but said that Cisco has solid capital allocation and a low valuation even if it cut the price target down to $25 from $30.
  • Deutsche Bank lowered its rating to Hold from Buy and cut the price target to $25 from $28.
  • Sterne Agee maintained its Buy rating, but lowered estimates and reduced the price target to $25 from $28.
  • Zacks Investment Research called Cisco’s unusually weak guidance news that will reflect terribly for global technology capital spending trends and in emerging markets.

Juniper Networks, Inc. (JNPR) is generally considered a key rival of Cisco's. Unfortunately, its market cap is about $10 billion rather than $115 billion. Juniper shares managed to gain this last week despite Cisco's dismal drop. Juniper also trades at about 15-times a forward blend of earnings and about 2.2-times expected sales. Juniper has no dividend, yet it said that it is not seeing the Snowden-effect and did not lower guidance. The consensus analyst price target of $22.19 implies upside of almost 12%.

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Alcatel-Lucent, S.A. (ALU) is harder to call a direct competitor as much now because its restructuring and turnaround have been endless. That being said, it is worth $9.5 billion. Alcatel-Lucent also trades at a fraction of sales based upon that turnaround, and it is expected to lose money in 2013 and also still in 2014. The consensus analyst target may be harder to count on as this is an ADR, but Thomson Reuters lists that target as $4.48 and that implies almost 8% upside. Alcatel-Lucent also has no dividend and likely will not for years to come.

It is going to be hard to endorse any immediate expectations in Cisco shares. After all, when companies miss this bad it is rarely just a fluke or one-off event. That being said, a 3.2% yield is probably better than you get from 95% of tech stocks, and less than 11-times earnings from an industry leader with $48 billion in cash and with ambitions of growth and dominance ahead is not going to sound rich to too many investors.

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